f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 5 of <em>Jesus Saves</em>—What Is a “Christian” Book Anyway?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, February 20, 2004

Day 5 of Jesus Saves—What Is a “Christian” Book Anyway?

It’s at moments like these that we realize how useless our categories becomes.

Hand Jesus Saves to a prototypical CBA reader and...well actually, please DON’T hand this book to such a person. It’s not for them. They’ll hate it. You will anger them greatly. Nasty letters may ensue. To them, this is the farthest thing from a Christian book. This book may very well be evil.

Hand it to an Iranian Muslim and they’ll probably nod and say, it is, first an American book and second a Christian book.

Hand it to me and I waffle more than the entire country of Belgium.

* Is it written with a Christian worldview in mind. Of a kind, yes.
* Will it lead people to a deeper understanding of Jesus. Yikes. I doubt it.
* Does it portray some non-clichéd version of Christian faith. Yes.
* Does it glorify God? Not particularly. At least in my reading.
* Is it a Christian novel?

Regardless of how you answer that question, we can’t overlook that the book does deal specifically with questions of faith and belief, particularly in the face of horrors—both day-to-day and catastrophic.

Here’s a passage on the sacred and the common:

Along the wafers stood bottles of Manischewitz grape wine. Downtown, homeless men drank Manischewitz in wrinkled brown bags. On Sundays, the wafers on the sterling plate and the wine in the medieval-style goblet took on aura and import, became what they called holy, but backstage their glamour was diminished, no more important now than saltine crackers and Boone’s Farm wine. Holiness was like that, you could never trap it or examine its uncanny elements.
Another on Ginger’s fears and faith:

…Ginger knew that if she had to believe in God and the angels, then devils and monsters existed too. Besides God was always letting all kinds of bad things happen. It would be different if car crashes and murders were written off to chance, but what scared Ginger as a child was that God just say on his golden throne and watched these things happen. Sure, he watched over you but that didn’t keep you safe. Actually it was even scarier to think of somebody staring at you all the time, like the disapproving ladies in church.
There’s really not much comment I can make on these passages. They’re fine observations—nothing earth shattering in them.

The most interesting comparison is in Steinke’s use of sermons to someone like Rachel Basch in Reverend Nash or your prototypical CBA sermon. She has three full sermons given in her book—two by Ginger’s father and a third by a visiting pastor from the popular megachurch in town. The sermons are, in a word, short. Maybe the homily of Lutheran churches are different from the services I attend, but what she offers in her book is about five minutes of speaking. Would that it were so some mornings.

Basch on the other hand only offers fragments of Reverend Nash’s discourses. And most CBA novelists choose to do the same, selecting the most pointed and applicable points they want to stress.

I’m not sure what I think of it. You can talk about church without talking about the sermons and yet it’s such an obvious place for authors to make their grand “point” that I think it’s losing its freshness. I do want to warn you that we aren’t interested in any more George MacDonald’s these days who fill pages and pages with sermonizing. Only rarely do sermons in real life have the acute sharpness to change a person’s life or mind and so it should be in novels as well.

So that’s it for Jesus Saves. If you’re considering picking it up, I just want you to be aware that the book is violent, graphic, and not intended to be pleasant at all. All those things that you can’t do in CBA books—you’ll find them here. Know your limits and your desires from a read and base your decision off that.

Next week, we’re going to look more in-depth at the craft of writing and how we can begin talking about the things that can be learned about writing. It is not simply an inborn gift that can’t be improved. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect unless it’s guided by a growing understanding and fuller appreciation for the nuts and bolts of the craft.

So it makes perfect sense that we’ll get into it by talking about comics. Huzzah.